^^^^ Chapter 1 ^^^^
Needle and Thread
On a September day, the last day of summer vacation
for the children of Camden Falls, Massachusetts,
a chilly breeze blew through town.
“Good gravy, it’s cool this morning,” Min Read exclaimed
to her granddaughters as they stepped outside. “I
think I need to grab a sweater. Are you two going
to be warm enough?”
,” Flora and Ruby answered. And Ruby
added, “We don’t need sweaters.”
As Min hurried back inside, the girls danced through
the carpet of acorns on the sidewalk in front of
the Row Houses, where they lived with their grandmother.
“Are you nervous about tomorrow?” Flora asked her
“About starting school?”
“A little,” admitted Ruby. She would be starting
fourth grade and Flora would be starting sixth.
“But I’m not going to think about that. I’m trying
to memorize all the songs from Annie
“Your goal for what?” asked Flora.
”Just my goal. In case I’m ever asked to audition
for a production of the show. It could happen, you
know.” Then, seeing the expression on Flora’s face,
she added hurriedly, “Well, it could
“I didn’t say it couldn’t.”
“You were thinking it.”
“How do you know what I was thinking?”
“Girls?” said their grandmother as she emerged from
their house wearing a sweater she had knitted herself.
“Do I hear squabbling?”
“No,” said Flora as she set off down the sidewalk.
“Yes,” said Ruby. “But not bad squabbling.” She
kicked an acorn ahead of her as she ran after her
grandmother and sister. For an old lady, Min was
pretty quick. And busy, which was why, when Flora
and Ruby were much smaller, they had begun to call
her Min. It was short for Mindy, which was her name,
and for “In a minute,” which she used to say all
Ruby skipped along. “Send a flood, send the flu,
anything that you can dooooo,” she sang, and she
let her voice rise, “‘to little giiiiirls!”
Ahead of her, Min turned around. “What on earth
is she singing?” she asked Flora,
It’s okay. It’s a song from Annie
“Lord love a duck,” murmured Min.
Flora retreated into silence. She was cataloging
the signs of fall that they passed on their way
to Needle and Thread, the sewing store that Min
owned with her friend Mrs. Walter. Above, the dry
leaves in the oak trees rattled in the breeze. In
the yard of a house on the other side of Aiken Avenue,
one entire garden was now overrun with lavender
autumn crocuses, their long leaves spilling over
the rocky border and onto the lawn. On some of the
fir trees, Flora could see tiny pinecones She thought
of collecting a basketful of them and painting them
gold and silver to use in Christmas decorations
And with that one simple thought, which last year
would have brought her such pleasure, a curtain
fell across Flora’s brain. She drew in several deep
breaths as she trotted along with Min.
Min glanced at her. “Everything all right, honey?”
“Yup,” said Flora. She loved Min, but she found
herself unable to share her new worries with her.
She willed herself to chase away the thoughts in
her head and tried concentrating on the sounds behind
“. . . betcha they’re smart. Bet they collect things
like ashtrays and aaaaart!”
Flora thought about the photo in her pocket, the
one that had so frightened her the night before.
She put her hand on it to make sure it was there.
She planned to show it to her friend Olivia later
“Hurry up, girls!” Min called as she turned onto
Main Street. ‘We’re late this morning, and it’s
all my fault.”
Moments later, Min Read and her granddaughters reached
Needle and Thread. Flora flung open the door, the
bell jangling above her. Mrs. Walter, Olivia’s grandmother
(called Gigi by her grandchildren and by Flora and
Ruby), had already put the coffee on and was arranging
new sewing and quilting magazines in the rack near
the cash register.
“I’m sorry we’re late,” said Min breathlessly. “I
had to go back for a sweater.”
“No worries,” replied Mrs. Walter. “I’ve only been
here a few minutes myself.”
During the next hour, Flora and Ruby helped Min
and Gigi get ready for the day, and then Flora plopped
herself down on one of the couches at the front
of Needle and Thread, the couches where customers
sat when they dropped by for a chat-and-stitch.
She gazed out the wide window and watched Main Street
come to life.
Flora and Ruby had lived in Camden Falls for just
over two months, so watching Main Street come to
life was still interesting, at least to Flora. She
wondered if it would always be interesting. Or would
she one day be so used to this town that she wouldn’t
notice the details anymore? She thought about her
old home, the town in which she and Ruby had grownup.
She didn’t remember many of the details. Was that
because she had been so used to everything?
Flora stared moodily out the window at Stuff ‘n’
Nonsense across the street. Maybe she should have
paid more attention to her old town, to her street,
her house, her room, her parents. But how could
she have known it would all be taken away from her?
She was thankful, of course, that after her parents’
accident Min had been able to care for her and Ruby.
And Flora liked Camden Falls. She did. She was making
friends. There was Nikki, who’d recently started
visiting Needle and Thread. And, of course, Olivia,
who lived next door in the Row Houses. Although
Olivia was a year younger than Flora, she had skipped
second grade and would be in Mrs. Mandel’s sixth-grade
class with Flora and Nikki when school started the
Flora liked Needle and Thread, too. She liked her
other neighbors in the Row Houses. She liked lots
of things here. But here wasn’t home for Flora.
Not yet. Now autumn was arriving. Ordinarily, this
was Flora’s favorite time of the year. Ruby’s, too.
Autumn meant pumpkins and new shoes and a fresh
school year. And it meant that the holidays were
on the way. Halloween first, then Thanksgiving and
Christmas. This was what made the curtain fall across
Flora’s brain: the holidays. How could she face
them without her parents? How could Ruby and Min
“Flora?” Flora felt her grandmother’s hands on her
shoulders and turned to see Min standing behind
the couch. “It’s your last day of vacation. Do you
really want to sit here all morning? Soon enough
you’ll be complaining that you don’t have any time
for sewing or knitting or making cards.”
Flora heaved a great sigh. “I know,” she replied.
She stood up wearily and looked around Needle and
Thread. “Where’s Ruby?”
Running errands for Gigi and me.
Flora thought about strolling up and down Main Street
until she found her sister. One of the best things
about living in Camden Falls was being allowed freedom
and independence. Her old home had been two miles
from town — a town that was much bigger than Camden
Falls. Flora and Ruby had never ever been allowed
to roam it by themselves. But this new town was
different. Main Street really was the main street,
even though it was only a few blocks long. A person
could walk from one end of downtown Camden Falls
to the other in fifteen minutes. The Row Houses
were a seven-minute walk, exactly, from Needle and
While Flora stood by the couch, deciding whether
to find Ruby or to work on the patchwork quilt she
had begun the week before, the bell over the door
to the store jangled, and in walked Robby Edwards
and his mother.
“Flora!” exclaimed Robby. “Good morning! We start
school tomorrow. Are you excited? Are you scared?”
Flora smiled. “Hi, Robby,” she said. Robby was seventeen
years old and one of the most cheerful people Flora
had ever met.
"I'm going to be in the high school",
Robby went on.
Flora knew that Robby, who had Down syndrome, attended
a special education class at Camden Falls Central
“I’ll be at Camden Falls Elementary,” Flora said.
“In sixth grade. Olivia and Nikki are going to be
in my class. Ruby will be in fourth grade.”
“I have Mrs. Fulton,” said Robby. “I always have
her. She’s very nice. She has lots of glue.”
Robby left Flora and began wandering around Needle
and Thread. He let his hand graze bolts of fabric
as he passed the racks of quilting cottons. He examined
the displays of buttons and laces. He eyed with
interest the small table near the back of the store
where old Mary Woolsey sat when she took in mending.
He passed his mother, who was leafing through pattern
books. Finally, he returned to the front of the
store and looked at the flyers by the register.
“Make a teddy bear,” he read aloud. “Learn to sew,
have fun, and help a kid in need.’ Flora,” he said,
“what is this?”
“It’s a class we’re going to have here at the store,”
“And it was all Flora’s idea,” a voice said. Flora
turned around to see Olivia come jangling through
the door. “Hi, everyone!” Olivia called. “Hi, Gigi.
Hi, Min. Hi, Robby.”
“Hello, Olivia,” replied Robby.
Olivia peered at the flyer Robby was holding. “These
came out really well,” she said.
“Camden Falls Art Supply printed them,” said Gigi.
“I picked them up on my way to the store this morning.
come out well, didn’t they?”
“But what do you mean, ‘Learn to sew and help a
kid in need’?” asked Robby.
“It’s a really cool idea,” said Olivia. “You can
take the class for free. You sign up ahead of time,
and when you come to the store, we give you everything
you need to make a teddy bear. We’ll help you make
it — if you don’t already know how to sew — and
then all the finished bears will be donated to kids
who.. .“ (Olivia paused and glanced at Flora) “to
kids who really need them.”
“That’s okay,” said Flora. “You can say it. Robby,
after the car accident —“
“The one you and Ruby were in with your parents?”
“Yes. After the car accident, when the police officer
came to tell Ruby and me that our parents had died,
she gave each of us a teddy bear. And then I read
about this organization that gives teddies to kids
who need them — kids who are in the hospital, or
who have lost their homes, or who are really sad.”
“Like you and Ruby,” said Robby.
Flora swallowed. “Well, yes.” Talking about the
accident had become a little easier, but not much.
“I want to make a teddy bear,” said Robby.
“Great. You can be the first one to sign up for
a class, said Olivia.
Robby grinned and shouted across the store, “Mom,
I’m going to learn to sew, have fun, and help a
kid in need!”
The bell over the door jangled again. . . and again
and again as customers came and went.
“Land sakes, what a busy morning,” said Min.
Ruby returned from her errands, and she and Flora
began assembling teddy bear kits for the classes.
Olivia, who got paid to work at the store since
her father had lost his job, rang up purchases while
Min and Gigi helped customers. Olivia took her work
It wasn’t until after lunch that things quieted
down, and when they did, Nikki arrived. She stepped
cautiously through the door, barely causing the
bell to ring.
“Hi,” she said shyly.
“Nikki, dear,” said Gigi. “How nice that you could
Nikki Sherman, scrawny and unkempt, lived on the
outskirts of Camden Falls. Until her brother had
found a bicycle at the dump and fixed it up for
her, she hadn’t had a way to come into town on her
own. And she had even fewer reasons to do so. She
almost never had money to spend, and until recently
she’d had no friends, either. But the summer — and
Flora and Ruby’s arrival — had changed that.
Olivia, Ruby, Flora, and Nikki sprawled on the couches
at the front of Needle and Thread. Min and Gigi
sat behind the counter while a sole customer roamed
the store. “I can’t believe summer’s over,” said
Olivia, letting out a loud sigh. “It always goes
by too fast.”
“I thought you liked school,” said Ruby.
“I do. But I like vacation just as much.”
“This summer seemed really long to me,” said Flora.
“Me, too,” said Nikki. “But I still don’t want to
go back to school.”
‘Why not?” asked Ruby. “School’s fun. You get to
be with your friends.”
“You don’t have friends yet,” Flora said to Ruby.
“I mean, friends your own age.”
“I do, too. Lacey is my age. Almost. And I’ll have
more friends soon. Nikki, how come you don’t want
to go to school?”
Nikki shrugged. “I just don’t.”
“Not even if you and Flora and I will be in the
same class?” asked Olivia, who knew why Nikki didn’t
want to go to school. It must have been awful to
be a Sherman in Camden Falls. The Shermans had an
unfortunate reputation, mainly because Mr. and Mrs.
Sherman drank too much and Mr. Sherman had a terrible
temper. The three Sherman kids showed up at school
in ill-fitting clothes and were able to bathe only
when the plumbing in their little house was in working
order. Olivia hoped school might improve for Nikki
now that they were all friends.
“Well, that will make it better,” Nikki agreed.
“Plus, we’ll have Mrs. Mandel.”
Every student at Camden Falls Elementary hoped to
get Mrs. Mandel for sixth grade.
The girls lounged on the couches until Nikki looked
at the Needle and Thread clock.
“Oh!” she cried. “I have to go! I promised Tobias
I’d get home by three to take care of Mae so he
can go to work, He got a part-time job at John’s.”
“John’s?” said Flora.
“That auto body place out by the new grocery store.”
Nikki jumped to her feet. “Okay. I’ll see you guys
at school tomorrow. Wish me luck on the bus.”
“Good luck,” said Flora and Ruby dutifully.
And Olivia said, “Stick with Mae. Maybe no one will
bother you if you’re sitting with a first-grader.”
The door closed behind Nikki, and Flora felt in
her pocket for the photograph. Then she glanced
at her sister. “Hey, Ruby. If you’ll go to Ma Grand-mere
to get chocolate chip cookies for you and Olivia
and me, I’ll pay for the cookies.”
“Cool,” said Ruby, who grabbed the money from her
sister and was out the door before Flora could change
Flora scooted down the couch to Olivia and thrust
the photo in front of her. “Look. Look at this,”
“What is it?” Olivia squinted at the picture of
a young woman posing stiffly with a little girl.
found it in this box of papers that was
in the attic,” Flora replied. “1 haven’t told anyone
about the box yet,” she added, squirming slightly.
“It’s old family stuff and I kind of want to keep
it a secret.”
“Min’s stuff? How come you want to keep it a secret?”
“I just do.”
“Okay.... Who are these people?”
“That’s just the thing. I’ve been looking at the
picture over and over, thinking the woman is familiar.
The little girl is my mother when she was four years
Flora turned over the photo to show Olivia the writing
on the back. “It says ‘Frannie and Mary — nineteen-seventy.’
Frannie is my mother, and at first I thought Mary
might be Min’s sister, Mary Elizabeth. A nice photo
of my mother with her aunt. But take a look at the
necklace Mary is wearing.”
Olivia brought the photo closer to her face and
gazed at it for a moment. Then she screamed and
dropped the picture to the floor.
” hissed Flora. She grabbed for the
photo and turned around to look at Min and Gigi,
but they were busy talking with the UPS woman who
had arrived at the back door with a delivery. Then
she clasped Olivia’s hand. “It’s who I think it
is, isn’t it?” she said quietly.
Scary Mary, whispered Olivia, wearing her star necklace.
“What was my mother doing with Mary Woolsey? I didn’t
think Mary knew my family back then.”
“I have no idea,” Olivia croaked, and she cleared
“Really? You don’t have any idea at all? You’ve
told me everything you know about Mary?”
“Cross my heart. She’s, like, eighty years old.
She lives alone — you saw her house. She’s possibly
a witch and definitely crazy. She’s buried some
kind of treasure in her garden and she keeps a child
hidden in her basement.”
Flora narrowed her eyes at Olivia.
“Okay, those are just rumors. But they might be
“She catches rats in her attic and fries them up
for dinner?” suggested Olivia.
“Come on. Tell me something that will help.”
“I don’t know anything more. I mean, anything more
than you do. She comes here three times a week to
take in people’s mending and stuff, and to return
it to them when it’s finished. She’s been doing
that ever since the store opened, I think, and that’s
how she earns her money, thanks to Gigi and Min.”
Olivia looked at the photo again and shuddered.
“I really don’t know what she would have been doing
with your mother.” She paused. “Maybe your mother
had a secret past.”
Flora was about to reply when Ruby entered the store,
holding aloft a paper bag from Ma Grand-mere. Flora
stuffed the picture back in her pocket and whispered
to Olivia, “Vie can discuss this later.”
Now she had even more questions. . . and no answers.
Although she did like the idea of someone, anyone,
having a secret past.
To find out more about Ruby, Flora,
and the world of Main Street, look for the book
in stores May 2007.